In terms of selling one's self, 50 Cent may just be the ShamWow Guy of hip-hop. He's got the money. He's got the fame. (Heck, he even has a new cologne.) But, while getting rich or dying trying may be on his daily to-do list—who else would get his very own line of branded platinum?—keeping his music true to his street upbringing is what really keeps him on the scene.
On the heels of the release of his fourth studio album, Before I Self Destruct, not to mention a cameo appearance in the blockbuster game Modern Warfare 2, the hip-hop entrepreneur chats with Maxim about the message behind his new music, dealing with the celebrity limelight, and being in the entertainment room of nearly every manchild in America.
What was the inspiration behind your very delayed album?
I actually started the concept before I released my third record, Curtis, which focused on representations of human emotions. For example, "Straight to the Bank" captured joy, "Ayo-Technology" had this sexual, love component and "I Still Kill" featured the aggression or the anger that all humans experience. My grandfather was Curtis Sr., his first-born was Curtis Jr., and I'm his first-born, Curtis the third—that's why I made that project my third album.
So, why are you self destructing in your fourth album?
It's how I see the entertainment industry. Most artists start out from nothing, people don't know who they are or know anything about their art until the general public consumes their work. But, when the finances start coming in, I think people begin to resent the artist because they can afford to have the "perfect lifestyle"—they have someone picking their clothes, they have someone fixing their hair, you know? The public resents that because these celebrities are not bearing the same pressures, so they look for any kind of flaw to hang their hat on.
Interesting. So, basically you're predicting your own downfall?
Well, think about it: When Britney Spears was shaving her head and swinging her umbrella at the cameras, it was the greatest show on earth. But, after she recovered, she went back into this weird grey space. Nobody cared, at least not as much as they used to. With this project, I'm preempting all of that by offering that situation up as a piece of art. It's about the things I experienced and that went on around me in the earliest stages of life.
How much of your work is about real-life occurrences versus just proliferating the perceived celebrity image of "50 Cent"?
I actually find a stronger significance in writing about the struggle of how far I've come. It's interesting because a lot of the artists who haven't had any success write about success, like having the lifestyle with the nice cars, beautiful women and the beautiful homes. When they eventually create the presentation for their music, they have these amazing music videos. But when the director yells "Cut," everything goes away. They don't have any of what they talk about, and then they go home to reality. I've been in the best hotels and ridden in the most luxurious tour buses and airplanes, but it's more interesting for me to write about things that don't just involve money.
Growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, you didn't have any of this. You were slinging cocaine, spent a few months in juvenile boot camp, and prospects for any kind of future were bleak. Looking back now, do you miss anything from that lifestyle?
When I reflect on that period, all of the normalcy is there. Even now, when I go back to my grandmother's house, it helps bring back memories of when I was there, of a time before success. People would get bored of me telling them about how I'm this rich and that rich. C'mon, who wants to hear that? Especially now that we're in a recession.
Is it true you lost a couple million in the recession?
[Laughs] If you have money, you lose money. Isn't that how it goes?
If we lost a couple million, we'd probably be in jail right now.
I don't have any qualms about disclosing that. Some people want to be flawless, it's part of their presentation. If you can convince the public that you're the man, they'll believe it.
Okay, Mr. Open Book. You paint yourself as a street-toughened artist in your music. But what's the nerdiest thing about you?
Definitely the book reading. I travel a lot and I'll pick up some books during the trips.
We heard you also did some voice-over work for Modern Warfare 2. How do you feel about your voice being heard by millions of gamers across the world?
It feels great—it's the biggest-selling video game ever! I've spoken before about having an interest in video games, and even though I've starred in a couple [Bulletproof, Blood on the Sand], I wanted to be a part of a bigger franchise where I wasn't the center of attention. An opportunity with Modern Warfare 2 came up and it worked out. Also, a song off of my album, "Crime Wave," is the theme music to the commercials.
So you must be awesome at the game. What's your kill/death ratio?
I play and enjoy it, but I'm not as good as some of the people around me, so I don't really disclose it. [Laughs] I go under an alias!
Before I Self Destruct is now available in stores and iTunes. Power by 50 Cent is available exclusively at Macy's.